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THE SAME SUBJECT continued. *
MR Locke's quibbles, founded on the word inmate, were early remarked by Lord Shaftesbury. “Inmate “is a word he poorly plays upon; the right word,
• If any of my readers should think, that, in this section, I make too wide, and too abrupt a transition from the question concerning the Origin of our Knowledge, to that which relates to the moral constitution of human nature, I must beg leave to remind them that, in doing so, I am only following Mr Locke's arrangement in his elaborate argument against innate ideas. The indefinite use which he there makes of the word idea, is the chief source of the confusion which runs through that discussion. It is justly observed by Mr Hume, that “he employs it in a very “loose sense, as standing for any of our perceptions, our sensa“tions and passions, as well as thoughts.”—“Now, in this sense,” continues Mr Hume, “I should desire to know what can be meant “by asserting, that self-love, or resentment of injuries, or the pas“sion of love between the sexes, is not innate " The following passage, which forms a part of the same note, bears a close resemblance in its spirit to that quoted in the text from Lord Shaftesbury. “It must be confessed, that the terms employed by those who “denied innate ideas, were not chosen with such caution, nor so “exactly defined, as to prevent all mistakes about their doctrine. “For what is meant by innate? If innate be equivalent to natu“ral, then all the perceptions and ideas of the mind must be al“ lowed to be innate or natural, in whatever sense we take the
“though less used, is connatural. For what has “birth, or progress of the foetus out of the womb, “to do in this case ? The question is not about the “ time the ideas entered, or the moment that one “body came out of the other; but whether the con“stitution of man be such, that being adult or grown “up, at such or such a time, sooner or later (no “matter when) certain ideas will not infallibly, in“evstably, necessarily spring up in him.” " It has often struck me as a remarkable circumstance, after what Locke has written with so much zeal against innate principles, both speculative and practical, that his own opinion upon this subject, as distinctly stated by himself in other parts of his works, does not seem to have been, at bottom, so very different from Lord Shaftesbury's, as either of these eminent writers imagined. All that has been commonly regarded as most pernicious in the first book of his Essay, is completely disavowed and done away by the following very explicit declaration: “He that hath the idea of an intelligent, but “frail and weak being, made by and depending on
“latter word, whether in opposition to uncommon, artificial, or “miraculous. If by innate be meant contemporary to our birth, “the dispute seems to be frivolous; nor is it worth while to in“quire at what time thinking begins, whether before or after our “birth."—Hume's Essays, Vol. II. (Note A.) * I have substituted, in this quotation, the phrase certain ideas, instead of Shaftesbury's example, the ideas of order, administration, and a God; with the view of separating his general observation from the particular application which he wished to make of it, in the tract from which this quotation is borrowed.—(See Lettors to a Student at the University, Letter 8.)
“ another, who is omnipotent, perfectly wise and “good, will as certainly know, that man is to “honour, fear, and obey God, as that the sun shines “when he sees it. For if he hath but the idea of “two such beings in his mind, and will turn his “ thoughts that way and consider them, he will as cer“tainly find, that the inferior, finite, and dependent, “is under an obligation to obey the supreme and in“finite, as he is certain to find that three, four, and “seven, are less than fifteen, if he will consider and “compute those numbers; nor can he be surer in “a clear morning that the sun is risen, if he will “but open his eyes, and turn them that way. But “yet these truths being never so certain, never so “clear, he may be ignorant of either or all of them, “who will never take the pains to employ his facul“ties as he should to inform himself about them.” "
It would not be easy to find a better illustration than this of the truth of Locke's observation, that most of the controversies among philosophers are merely verbal. The advantage, in point of unequivocal expression, is surely, in the present instance, not on his side; but, notwithstanding the apparent scope of his argument, and still more, of the absurd fables which he has quoted in its support, the foregoing passage is sufficient to demonstrate, that he did not himself interpret (as many of his adversaries, and, I am sorry to add, some of his admirers, have done) his reasonings against innate ideas, as leading to any conclusion inconsistent with the certainty of human knowledge, or with the reality and immutability of moral distinctions. I have enlarged on this collateral topic at greater length than I would otherwise have done, in consequence chiefly of the application which has been made, since Locke's time, of the principles which I have been controverting in the preceding chapters, to the establishment of a doctrine subversive of all our reasonings concerning the moral administration of the universe. Dr Hutcheson, bne of the most zealous, and most able advocates for morality, seems to have paved the way for the scepticism of some of his successors, by the unguarded facility with which, notwithstanding his hostility to Locke's conclusions concerning innate practical principles, he adopted his opinions, and the peculiarities of his phraseology, with respect to the origin of our ideas in general. I have already observed, that, according to both these writers, “it is the province of sense to intro“duce ideas into the mind; and of reason, to com“pare them together, and to trace their relations;” —a very arbitrary and unfounded assumption, undoubtedly, as I trust has been sufficiently proved in a former part of this argument; but from which it followed, as a necessary consequence, that, if the words right and wrong express simple ideas, the origin of these ideas must be referred, not to reason, but to some appropriate power of perception. To this power Hutcheson, after the example of Shaftesbury, gave the name of the moral sense ; a phrase which has now grown into such familiar use, that it is occasionally employed by many who never think of connecting it with any particular philosophical theory. Hutcheson himself was evidently apprehensive of the consequences which his language might be supposed to involve ; and he has endeavoured to guard against them, though with very little success, in the following caution : “Let none imagine, that “calling the ideas of virtue and vice perceptions of “sense, upon apprehending the actions and affec“tions of another, does diminish their reality, more “ than the like assertions concerning all pleasure and “pain, happiness or misery. Our reason often cor“rects the report of our senses about the natural “tendency of the external action, and corrects such “rash conclusions about the affections of the agent. “But whether our moral sense be subject to such a “disorder as to have different perceptions from the “same apprehended affections in any agent, at dif. “ferent times, as the eye may have of the colours “of an unaltered object, it is not easy to determine: “perhaps it will be hard to find any instances of “ such a change. What reason could correct, if it “fell into such a disorder, I know not ; except sug“gesting to its remembrance its former approba“tions, and representing the general sense of man“kind. But this does not prove ideas of virtue “ and vice to be previous to a sense, more than a “like correction of the ideas of colour in a person “under the jaundice, proves that colours are per“ceived by reason, previously to sense.” Mr Hume was not to be imposed upon by such an evasion, and he has accordingly, with his usual
* Locke's Essay, B. iv. c. xiii. § 3.